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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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The World of Competitive Figure Skating

Peilin Chen

For every Olympic games, there always seems to be some type of scandal or drama. The 2002 Winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City proved itself to be full of this excitement and controversy. That year the scandal appeared in one of the most popular events, figure skating. The competition was between the Russian and Canadian figure skating pairs. The Russians showed a performance full of technical difficulty without pulling it off completely. Their performance was marred by simple mistakes. On the other hand, the Canadian pair performed a piece full of emotion, and while not as technically difficult as the Russians, more thorough and precise in their landings and jumps. After their performance the audience and the television commentators all believed they were the gold medallists. However after their score went up, they were sorely put in second place. As it turns out a French judge exchanged votes with a Russian judge so that the Russians would win the event. Since this happened, it has opened up the doors to the world of figure skating and informed the public of its corruptness. What people need to notice is that judges exchanging votes is only one part of the problem and how well a person actually performs the techniques on the ice is only one part of the judging. In an article published in Newsweek right after the scandal was exposed the author states, "For ages figure skating has attracted ridicule for letting a competitor's nationality, make-up, costume, and choice of music seem to count as much as the athleticism and grace." (Begley 40) As it stands now in 2010, it looks as though no one has learned a lesson from this event or article. Judges who make deals before competitions and get caught do not suffer any harsh consequences. They continue to practice unsportsmanlike conduct while judging. In my movie (as yet to be titled) I hope to address not only the fact that judges make deals ahead of time, but that certain skaters are discriminated by their race and sexuality as well as for arbitrary reasons.

The movie will be set in the United States, most likely in Connecticut, a common place for skaters to train. The main character, Kris is working on making it up the ladder of the amateur skating circuit. She comes from a lower middle class family that cannot support her hobby of skating. Therefore in order to pay for training she works at the rink. Although she has a natural talent for skating, several things are setting her back. One has been mentioned already. She does not have the financial resources to travel to many competitions or for fancy costumes and props. We know that this can and does set Kris back from the rest, even though she may have the skating skills to rival. The second factor is that Kris is African-American. Historically, ice-skating has been a sport that was dominated by white society. Thirdly there are rumors that Kris is gay. In a sport that demands the athletes to be graceful and feminine, homosexuality is not considered a positive attribute for women. She does not want to give up the sport, and she believes in herself and her abilities. However in order for her to continue with her coach, she must become a pairs skater and search for a partner to do pairs figure skating with her. Her coach believes her having a partner will make her more appealing and feminine to the judges. Although we know that shouldn't matter. Her new partner is Zach. He also works at the rink part time, and has a natural gift of skating due to his former training in hockey. They begin training and have only three months to prepare for their first big competition, the U.S. National Competition. They should place in the top five in this competition and qualify to compete in the Olympic trials.

In the end they make it to the Olympics. Their story has become the talk of the games, and everyone is waiting to watch them skate. However in the end, although they had a great performance, the discrimination and inner deal workings of the judges takes precedent over their abilities and they must settle for 3rd place.

The controversy in this pairing is in response to the skater's race and sexual orientation. In the sport's history in the United States, there has never been a widely recognized African-American Skater, not mention an inter-racial figure skating pair. Although they may not have won the gold, they succeed in making the issue of race and inter-racial relationships known. The movie also addressed the challenge of being gay in this sport. Kris could not compete alone and still hope to succeed. The fact that she needed to find a man to make her more feminine shows in this day and age a woman must still depend on a man, even though she is just as capable and that intolerance of gay people still exists. This addresses the lesbians rather than gay men. There have already been many openly gay male figure skaters, and while the subject was never addressed, they were accepted within the skating circuit because the sport stresses femininity.

As the screenwriter, I considered making Kris' ice skating partner female as a way to addresses homosexuality and gender issues within the sport. The female partner would pretend to be male similar to the gender disguising in the movie "Boys Don't Cry." It would also address the rules of skating and whether or not it is necessary for the pair to be made up of a male and female. The female character opposite Kris would struggle with the notions that a woman could not physically complete the tasks and techniques necessary in pairs figure skating. My thoughts were that if a woman trained as hard as Bev, in the movie "Pumping Iron II," where Bev could physically out do some men, then it is possible that a woman could play the same role as men did out on the ice. However, I did not pursue this story because my research into the existing rules of skating was incomplete; I did not know if there was an existing rule, and I felt I could not make the assumption without some evidence.

I would love to make this a mainstream movie so many people could be exposed to the situations and conflicts in this story. However, it would be more realistic to portray the movie as a documentary similar to the "Pumping Iron" series, where the actors are real skaters playing a role. My main goal was to show the ugly side of skating. The one people didn't know about or chose to ignore.

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